When a client’s unhappy—because your team screwed up—agencies often jump to offer free work or refunds. That’s not necessarily the right approach—your client may not want a refund.
Instead, let your client vent, use lots of “I’d feel that way, too” and “I’m sorry this happened” acknowledgement, and then ask them a simple, open-ended question: “What can I do to make this right?”
I’m going to assume that the client’s right or at least mostly right—the approach is going to be somewhat different (i.e., fewer concessions) if the client is entirely in the wrong.
What Your Unhappy Clients Might Want Instead
If they’re really unhappy, here are some things they might want:
- Give them a new contact at the agency.
- Give them a refund, either full or pro-rated.
- Offer them additional free “make good” work.
- Re-do the work, ASAP.
- Apologize to their boss.
- Let them vent, with no further deliverables on your part.
Don’t automatically jump to a refund. One, it costs money. Two, it may not be what they want.
For instance, when the delivery person fails to deliver my Sunday New York Times, I don’t want a $7 refund—I want the paper because I was looking forward to reading it. If they can re-deliver the paper within a couple hours, I don’t care about a credit on my account—I’m in the “re-do the work, ASAP” camp.
An Agency Example
I talked through this process recently with a client who’d had an unhappy client.
His agency had done a PR project and it hadn’t gotten coverage. He’d offered the client a refund but the now-former client didn’t respond.
From their description, it sounds like the client was more sad—about not getting results—than angry. This was a client they’d see at networking events, so they didn’t want to burn bridges entirely.
I don’t know the final outcome yet, but they’re going to ask him what he’d like. From his non-response, I suspect it’s going to be “let them vent” and nothing further.
The key is they’re going to ask what he wants, instead of assuming.
Applying This at Your Agency
Remember, people want to be heard—so your asking their ideal outcome is already helping, because you’re letting them express their needs.
Worst-case—assuming your contract limits your liability to what clients paid you—you owe a full refund. Best case, it might be something more satisfying to your client—that costs you less than a refund.
Question: What’s your process for handling unhappy clients when it escalates to this point?
Image credit: Refund button (previously online at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jakerust/16658631500/) by Got Credit, via Creative Commons
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